Gorbachev's Politics

Courtesy Reuters

During the late 1970s and the early 1980s the idea that a truly radical reformer could emerge as Soviet general secretary, and especially that such a reformer might emerge from the Communist Party apparatus and Leonid Brezhnev's Politburo, seemed virtually unthinkable. This assumption determined the Western view of Mikhail Gorbachev until the Chernobyl nuclear power plant crisis, the emergence of the policy of glasnost and the release of Andrei Sakharov from internal exile in Gorky in late 1986. For the next two years, most analysts emphasized the overwhelming conservative domestic opposition to Gorbachev and to his reform programs. With the elections to the new Supreme Soviet in March 1989 and the coal mine strikes the following July, however, the perception of overwhelming danger from conservative social forces gave way to a perception that the real danger was from the left.

Through all of this continuing American anxiety, all the traditional analytic indicators have suggested that Gorbachev was steadily accumulating power, and was at the same time acting with extraordinary self-confidence in the conduct of foreign policy. Even in economic policy, Gorbachev has moved from reform measures that were unthinkable only a year ago, to other measures that were even more unthinkable. Thus, the most immediate results of the sessions of the Congress of People's Deputies and Supreme Soviet were to discredit Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov and to overcome his opposition to reform. (Ryzhkov himself called it a "rectification" process.) The most immediate result of the coal strikes and the Baltic agitation for nearly full autonomy were counterdemands by Russian coal miners and the Russian Republic government for a price reform that radical economists had been saying was politically unacceptable to the Soviet people.

The suggestion has been made that all of this turmoil proves that Gorbachev has no strategy. If we in the West are surprised by events, then we think that Gorbachev must be surprised by them. If we do not understand what is going on, then we think that things are out

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